by Jef Burnham
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Those films which fall into the very narrow sub-genre of poker movies have been hard-pressed to live up to the standard set by The Cincinnati Kid. Not only did the film have a dream cast including Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson, but it featured a theme song by Ray Charles and a script by Academy Award winner Ring Lardner Jr. (M*A*S*H). Only one or two greats have come along since (see Rounders). Personally, I’m a sucker for card movies, and the upcoming MTI Home Video release, All In, though it has its flaws, ultimately won me over with its deftly filmed poker scenes.
The relationship between Seal (Michael Madsen of Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs) and his daughter, Ace (Dominique Swain), is, frankly, the only interesting relationship in the film. We are given a large dose of this in the opening sequence, before finding out that the same night his wife kicked him out, Seal lost his first poker game ever and died after rolling his car off a cliff. Luckily, he survived to play his daughter in the last poker game of the film fifteen years later.
In between the end-capping father/daughter scenes are a lot of insultingly idealized college scenes about people who are so hot they don’t even have to study to pass anatomy exams. If the middle bit of this movie teaches you one thing, let it be that medical school is a place filled with beautiful people just itching to wave their genitals at you. There is also a subplot about corruption in a hospital which ties loosely into it all but is really just padding the film out to 90 minutes. Pretty much everything in the film, save for the poker sequences, is superfluous, which I suppose makes the four writers of the film superfluous as well.
Madsen’s performance is enjoyable, as well as Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. as Caps, and Swain is often decent, managing to be at least pretty and charming the rest of the time. Ultimately, most of the acting weighs the film down, so that it all feels like a rehearsal of a first draft of the film. I point once again to the film’s four writers, who add to the amateurish feel with their trail of inconsistencies, such as Ace’s predictably dramatic line, “I gave up poker a long time ago,” although she had been playing high-stakes, strip-poker a couple scenes earlier.
The last 45 minutes of the film revolves around Ace and her friends winning lots of money at poker to pay off their hindering debts, which never seemed to be a problem when they were naked, drinking, playing poker. And for the poker scenes, I found myself forgiving the rest of the film. The poker games are edited well, allowing for the right amount of insight into Ace’s strategy, so the audience can feel like they are a part of the action. If you’re one of those people who stop channel-surfing on poker or billiard tournaments like I do, you should love this stuff; or maybe it’ll just inspire you to revisit the greatest poker movie of all time, The Cincinnati Kid.
All In will be available to own from MTI Home Video February 5, 2008.
Jef Burnham is a freelance writer and film critic in Chicago.
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